A conversation with rising Norwegian artist Anja Niemi

at The Little Black Gallery

This May, Anja Niemi’s latest exhibition The Woman Who Never Existed opens at The Little Black Gallery in London. We talk to the artist behind the mesmerizing photographs about her new series, working in Norway and abroad, and why it’s important to reserve some moments for yourself.


Q: Tell us a bit about yourself – where did you grow up and what attracted you to the UK?

A: I grew up in Norway and moved to the UK for the first time when I was studying photography. I lived in London for many years after my degree so it’s where I started my career. This is now over 15 years ago and back then the photography scene in Oslo was very small so being in London gave me a lot more opportunities. I moved back to Norway some years ago but my work always stayed in London. It was those first connections that led me to my relationship with The Little Black Gallery that now is my main representation.

Anja Niemi - The Stage

Anja Niemi – The Stage

Q: What inspired The Woman Who Never Existed and how does it differ from your previous series?

A: The series was inspired by the words of a pioneering Italian actress who worked the international theatre scene in the early 20th century. She once famously told a pushy New York journalist that “Away from the stage I do not exist”.  Unrelated to what the actress meant, the words gave me an instant story about a woman who disappeared when no one was looking at her. I loosely staged my character in Italy in the early 20th century, as everything is built around those first ideas.  I rented several houses and  apartments as well as a Victorian theatre, focusing on places with rich textures and patterns to contrast my characters bleak personality.  The elaborate costumes and lush interiors are her illusion, without them she fades away. ‘The Woman Who Never Existed’ is my first series solely inspired by words.

Scarlett © Anja Niemi _ The Little Black Gallery

Anja Niemi – Scarlett

Q: Your work has already had much recognition in the UK, whereas the Norwegian market seems to have only just discovered you. Why do you think that is?

A: I have been with the same London gallery for many years now, so I have mainly shown my work in the UK and with them in the USA. I am a very private person so living in Norway and having my work in the UK and USA has worked well.  For me it’s a constant struggle finding a way to be comfortable with the very necessary publicity you need to do to be able to make a living as an artist.  I do enjoy sharing my work and love the idea of entertaining people, but anything beyond that makes me very uncomfortable. I have come to accept that it’s the price I pay to have the job of my dreams, but the distance between my personal life and my work has made it easier.

Anja Niemi - Intermission

Anja Niemi – Intermission

Q: The Woman Who Never Existed opened in Oslo last month as the first of your series to be exhibited in Norway. How differently has it been received in the UK and in Norway?

A: When I got the opportunity to exhibit with Shoot Gallery in Oslo I thought about it carefully because I know everything would be closer to home I and was unsure how that would feel. I had admired Helene Gulaker Hansen’s work with her gallery since she opened in Oslo a few years ago and the chance to show with her was an honor, so I took it. Needless to say I was nervous, but thankfully Oslo made me feel very welcome with my show. The number of visitors to the gallery was definitely unexpected but warming and the biggest compliment I could ask for.

Q: What do you want people to know before they see your exhibition? 

A: I like that the story differs depending on what each viewer brings into it, so I always try not to say too much.

Anja Niemi - The Toy Soldier

Anja Niemi – The Toy Soldier

Q: What do you want to say with this particular series? 

A: My character feels like she has no purpose if no one sees her and I think we can all benefit from a reminder to have moments in our lives that are just for us. We have become so accustomed to getting validation from others for everything we do.


The Little Black Gallery





4 – 27 May



Free Admission

Norwegian Art

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